Critiques of Progressive and Classical Reforms

Many progressive reforms failed to transfer learned skills. Evidence suggests that higher-order thinking skills are unused by many people (cf. Jean Piaget, Isabel Myers, and Katharine Cook Briggs). Some authorities say that this refutes key assumptions of progressive thinkers such as Dewey.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who studied people's developmental stages. He showed by widely reproduced experiments that most young children do not analyze or synthesize as Dewey expected. Some authorities therefore say that Dewey's reforms do not apply to the primary education of young children.

Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers developed a psychological test that reproducibly identifies sixteen distinct human temperaments, building on work by Jung. A wide class of temperaments ("Sensors", half by category, 60% of the general population) prefer not to use non-concrete information such as theories or logical inference.

In terms of education, some authorities interpret this to mean that 60% of the general population only use, and therefore would prefer to learn answers to concrete "Who, what, when, where," and "how" questions, rather than answers to the theoretical "which" and "why" questions advocated by progressives.

This information was confirmed (on another research track) by Jean Piaget, who discovered that nearly 60% of adults never habitually use what he called "formal operational reasoning," a term for the development and use of theories and explicit logic.

If this criticism is true, then schools that teach only principles would fail to educate 60% of the general population.

The data from Piaget, Myers and Briggs can also be used to criticize classical teaching styles that never teach theory or principle. In particular, a wide class of temperaments ("Intuitive's", half by category, 40% of the general population) prefer to reason from trusted first principles, and then apply that theory to predict concrete facts.

In terms of education, some authorities interpret this to mean that 40% of the general population prefer to use, and therefore want to learn, answers to theoretical "Which and "Why" questions, rather than answers to the concrete "Who, what, when, where" and "How" questions.

The synthesis resulting from this two-part critique is a "neoclassical" learning theory similar to that practiced by Marva Collins, in which both learning styles are accommodated. The classroom is filled with facts, that are organized with theories, providing a rich environment to feed children's natural preferences. To reduce the limitations of depending only on natural preferences, all children are required to learn both important facts, and important forms of reasoning.